After a successful run at the Queens Night Market in 2019, chef and owner Amy Pryke recently debuted a brick-and-mortar outpost of her popular Singaporean food stall, Native Noodles, in Washington Heights.
Located at 2129 Amsterdam Avenue, at West 166th Street, the fast-casual spot officially opened its doors on February 8 and is sticking to takeout and delivery for now, says Pryke. But customers who frequented her stall at the Queens Night Market — which was open on weekends from the spring to the fall of 2019 — can expect to see some of their favorites on the restaurant’s menu, most notably Pryke’s take on laksa, the popular spicy Southeast Asian noodle soup, which she deconstructs into a less soupier version.
But unlike her days at the night market, where she was limited to featuring one or two dishes on the menu each week as mostly a one-women operation, Pryke now has more room to showcase an expanded menu. She hopes to put Singaporean food on the map in New York City in a big way.
“I’m excited for more New Yorkers to get to know Singaporean food and to make Singaporean food more accessible,” says Pryke.
To that effect Pryke has changed up some of the traditional preparations of Singaporean dishes in the hopes that they might be more palatable to a wider audience in NYC, she says. The traditional cereal butter prawns — which typically has a crunchy cereal coating like Nestum cereal and feature unshelled shrimp — is recreated at Native Noodles as popcorn chicken. Singaporean chili crab — most commonly presented with whole crabs served along bread rolls — has been reimagined as a crab dip, though the buns remain. A typical Singaporean stir fry with rice noodles and peanut sauce swaps in thicker egg noodles that may be more recognizable to diners familiar with sesame noodles often found at many Chinese restaurants, says Pryke.
“It’s about providing an entry point so that people don’t feel intimidated,” says Pryke, noting that there aren’t as many Asian restaurants where Native Noodles is located compared to other parts of Manhattan. “As people start to get more familiar, I’d want to introduce dishes that are more traditionally prepared.”
The opening of the restaurant kicks off a new chapter for Pryke, who moved to United States from Singapore to pursue her undergraduate studies at New York University back in 2011. Like many immigrants, Pryke says she got into cooking after she made the move to NYC and became homesick for Singapore’s food. Though NYC features a breadth of Southeast Asian restaurants, Singaporean establishments have been largely absent save for Flatiron’s Laut Singapura and a few establishments in Queens. Pryke hopes to shine more of a spotlight on the food she grew up eating, she says, and the diversity of Singaporean food, which draws on influences from Indian, Malaysian, and Chinese food.
Following a career as a financial consultant for about four years, Pryke decided to go to business school in the hopes of opening her own restaurant. Her application to Columbia University’s business school included an essay on opening a restaurant she says, and a few years later that essay came to fruition as a full-fledged business. Pryke applied to be a vendor at the Queens Night Market in early 2019 and debuted her stall by that April. Pryke says the market provided an ideal testing ground for her venture before making an investment on a brick-and-mortar establishment. Pryke felt particularly confident about opening following the approval from market-goers — including many Singaporeans — who she says are particularly knowledgeable about Southeast Asian food.
While at the market, Pryke met Josh Medina, a chef at Hawaiian mini chain Makana — which also has a location in Washington Heights — who has now helped her open Native Noodle’s permanent outpost and is helping her out in the kitchen as well. Pryke signed the lease on her establishment back in April 2020, and has since been gearing up for the opening, including a two-month stint last fall apprenticing with the Singaporean chef James Aw in Singapore.
Despite the timing on her lease — COVID-19 cases were surging in NYC back in April 2020 when she signed — Pryke says she was undeterred given the restaurant’s location near the New York Presbyterian Hospital, which she hopes will make up a bulk of the customer base at Native Noodle. As a student at Columbia University, she also felt like there was a dearth of Southeast Asian restaurants uptown and wanted to address that need.
This past weekend was her first weekend in business and she says she noticed an uptick in business starting Friday, but she says it’s too soon to tell how well the restaurant’s been received yet. For now, she’s just focussed on the month ahead, and remains hopeful about adding another location downtown in the future and growing her business further by catering to the nearby hospital and schools.
“This may not be destination dining,” says Pryke referring to the fact that her restaurant is only takeout and delivery for now, although she hopes to add outdoor dining later this year. “But for people who do want to taste Singaporean food, I hope they will come and try it.”